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An Opinion Piece by Troy Young, CEO, Attractions Ontario
While it was promising to see a reopening plan, as I have been advocating for some weeks now on behalf of Attractions Ontario; and though collectively the industry was happy that water parks and amusement parks were included after having missed the entire season in 2020, I find myself with many questions and concerns about elements of the plan – specifically, who can open and when?!
I recognize the pressures the provincial government is under and I believe our elected officials made decisions in good faith. However, the timing of pushing this announcement out before the May long weekend may have contributed to rushed decision-making as there are several contradictory conclusions in the plan.
This has been the case for much of the pandemic; the government has not provided rationales to our industry on how they made their decisions. This proposed reopening plan certainly was not produced by people who have experience operating tourism businesses. Is science driving these decisions? And if so, where is the data? If we knew what the rationales were, the creative entrepreneurs who power the tourism industry could develop innovative solutions to meet the health-related targets while allowing businesses to open.
Other items left out of the plan are a list of what restrictions will be in place. What will capacity limits be? Will there be hard caps regardless of the size of the business, or will our tourist businesses be treated like retail and operate under a percentage basis? We are now less than one week from the proposed opening date; by moving up the date to June 11th, we have lost 3 vital days of preparation. Yet, our tourism businesses still do not know how many people they can welcome, which means they do not know how many staff are required. For many of the positions at our attractions, these are not skills that everyone has. For example, the tour boat industry has few trained captains to draw from or few white-water guides to raft the rivers. A business cannot hire staff today and expect them to start tomorrow. Companies need time to prepare, and if Premier Ford and Dr. Williams do not provide this then any announcement on reopening is likely to spur chaos and further disappointment as businesses will not be ready to open their doors on the dates provided by the government. This is reckless and unfair.
Apart from not having enough time to plan, the more important question of who can open and during which stage remains ambiguous. For example, a historic site can open in stage one, but a museum cannot open until stage three. That same historic site will have to wait three weeks after opening to allow walking tours on the site because walking tours are in stage two along with boat and bus tours. Retail can open in stage one at 15% capacity, but a small museum will remain closed for an additional six weeks. I believe these contradictions were not obvious to the people making these decisions because it was outside of their area of expertise. Had they shared it with us in advance, we would have helped craft a better plan. This is especially clear when comparing to plans rolled out by other provinces; across the board, each of these other provincial plans are superior to the one Ontario is following.
I am asking the province to reconsider the stages some of our members can open in and provide clear direction on what restrictions our tourism businesses can expect to operate under. Our hope of having a positive summer experience is riding on these decisions. The province needs to move faster on supplying us with the details. If Premier Ford can take advice on closing schools from ‘Arthur’ he can listen to the experts in tourism regarding our reopening needs. Premier Ford, we are asking you to help our industry survive this pandemic by listening to our needs and reviewing the current reopening plan, to eliminate contradictions and provide us with the information we require in a timely fashion. We are not asking for dates to be moved up, we are simply asking for clarity. As a business operator yourself, Premier Ford, you understand the need for clarity in making a plan. Use that business experience to aid us now. Give us those details and fix the inconsistencies in your plan.
Troy Young, CEO